They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and while that may be true, what they fail to mention is that a straight line has to be the most boring path between two points. Clearly the mathematicians who came up with this theory never rode a motorcycle. But motorcyclists are a different breed. We choose to take the longest path to our destinations-usually with plenty of twists and turns along the way. And while we here at Sport Rider love to go fast around a racetrack on the latest and greatest sportbikes (as witnessed by the cover story this month), there is a soft spot in our hearts for a bit of sport-touring. Every so often we get the urge to pack our things, hit the streets and take off for a weekend-adding a bit of adventure to our speed fix. And with the sport-touring segment getting a bit of revitalization as of late, we thought we'd give the latest offerings a try. This time around our journey would take us from our Los Angeles headquarters to the quaint little town of Cambria, located on California's beautiful central coast. Our steeds for this trip? The '08 BMW K1200GT, Kawasaki Concours 14 and Yamaha FJR1300A. On the surface there isn't much separating these machines-all three have more than 1,000cc of four-cylinder thrust to pull them along, shaft drive, ABS, upright seating positions, bags and adjustable windscreens, but there's more to each of these bikes than meets the eye.
The Unanimous Decision
Hop on the BMW K1200GT, and its 32.2-inch seat height actually feels low to the ground. This is largely due to the seat's narrow frontal area. It's nifty feature-along with its heated rider and passenger seats-but during long stints in the saddle that narrow seat becomes uncomfortable. Engine size is 1157cc, the smallest of this bunch, and slanted at a steep 55-degree angle that is partially responsible for its 61.8-inch wheelbase. Despite its small size the K12 engine actually makes more peak horsepower than the Yamaha, though the FJR has it beat at everything under 7500 rpm. Still, from a seat-of-the-pants reaction the BMW engine feels like the least powerful of the bunch and thus scored last on our testers' sheets. With engines this big, twisting the throttle should push the rider back in the seat, and on the BMW it simply doesn't.The BMW has decent grunt down low, but you have to really twist the throttle before the bike responds. Power delivery is smooth and linear, but its lack of torque sets it back when compared with the other two bikes.
On the suspension side the K12GT utilizes the Duolever front-end design, which didn't score favorably with any of the testers. While we applaud BMW for its innovation in suspension technology, the Duolever design transmits zero feedback, leaving the rider to blindly trust that the front contact patch will travel the intended course. Playing with the Electronic Suspension Adjustments didn't yield much better results, and we actually kept the bike in Normal mode for most of our trip. In the words of Kunitsugu, "It's like BMW wants to isolate the rider from the road and have the bike worry about everything." For those used to having a dialogue with the front end this is very unnerving, to say the least. To its credit, the BMW does steer quickly and accurately.
Bringing the K12 to a stop are a pair of 320mm rotors clamped by twin four-piston Brembo calipers. Linked ABS comes standard. When braking on the BMW you feel like the bike is playing a mean joke on you each time. Initial pulling on the lever results in zero stopping power, then out of nowhere the pads clamp on the disks with one big bang with no modulation or linearity-it's either on or off. It's downright spooky at best, potentially dangerous if trying to feed some brakes as the bike is leaned over.
Wind protection is another tender subject. For our testers, who all hover around 5 feet 8 inches, the windscreen wasn't much help. In order to find the sweet spot it had to be lifted to its highest position, requiring the rider to peek through the top of the screen-where vision was most distorted.
Kawasaki Concours 14
All three bikes feature adjustable windscreens that move up or down with the push of a button. The screen on the BMW feels almost too close to the rider, as if you might smack your head into it during a panic stop. Also, we couldn't find a comfortable position for the screen until it was in its highest position-at which point we'd have to look through the top where optical clarity was most distorted. Even at its lowest position the Kawasaki's screen deflected practically all the wind away from the chest. At its highest position one could still see over the screen, but buffeting to the helmet was virtually nil. Also note the low position of the mirrors compared with the other two bikes. The Yamaha screen does a decent job of deflecting air away from the chest and hands, but buffeting to the helmet is never truly eliminated with the screen at its highest. Note: Upon shutdown the screen automatically reverts back to the lowest position.